Friday, August 3, 2012

Sleepless In Seattle (1993)

On the surface, I feel like Sleepless in Seattle is a film I should not like. It's an early 90's romantic comedy, It stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, it's inspired by two pretty mediocre but well respected films from Hollywood's golden age, and Rosie O'Donnell is in it. So why do I love it so much? Well for starters, it's very well written by the late Nora Ephron. It was made before Meg Ryan acquired her plastic duck face and before Tom Hanks starred in Forrest Gump (One of my least, most hated films of all time). Also, over the last couple of years I've come to respect Rosie O'Donnell for the most part. 

There are also plenty of obvious reason to love this movie. The genius Rob Reiner is in it, as is Bill Pullman who I liked a lot in the 80's and early 90's until he started appearing in everything. His role as the President in Independence Day (1996) was what finally did it for me. I had finally had enough of him. But, c'mon, the guy was in Spaceballs (1987). 

Sleepless in Seattle was directed by Nora Ephron, who passed away the same day that I am writing this. She also wrote the screenplay.

The film opens with Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) and his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) standing side by side in a graveyard. "Mommy got sick, and it happened just like that. There's nothing anybody could do. It isn't fair. There's no reason. But if we start asking why, we'll go crazy." Sam shares these very honest words with his son. Sam has just lost his wife and Jonah has just lost his mother. The broad reason as to why they lost her is cancer. But for anyone who has ever lost someone to that horrible thing knows how broad and insufficient a reason it is. Sam is right. There's no reason. Following the death of his wife, Sam does what most people do, he grieves. He also gets the hell out of town. Sam and Jonah move to Seattle.

Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) is a newspaper reporter in Baltimore and she is newly engaged to Walter (Bill Pullman). They aren't married yet, so his name is not Walter Reed. Actually, Nora Ephron didn't give his character a last name. He's just Walter. He's a good guy. He parts his hair on the side and he is deathly allergic to nuts. 

Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally... (1989) (also written by Ephron) are the films that gave Meg Ryan her reputation of being so gosh darn cute. It's genuine here too. A few years later when she and Hanks would reunite for You've Got Mail (1998), the magic would be gone. A performance of hers hasn't given me that same feeling since. And oh my goodness, the plastic surgery. But back to her cuteness circa 1993, there's a scene near the beginning of the film where she's driving alone while listening to Christmas music. As "Jingle Bells" plays on the radio she sings along, "Harses Harses Harses..." Yeah, it's adorable. 

Still singing, she changes the station and a talk radio program comes on, the topic is Christmas wishes. She hears young Jonah call in expressing that he would like a new wife for his dad. That's how he words it too. He does not wish for a new mom. He quite simply and warmly wishes for his father to be happy again. When the radio doctor wants to speak with Sam, Jonah puts him on the phone. At first Sam seems kinda pissed that Jonah would put him on the spot like this in front of potentially millions of radio listeners. "Talk to her, dad, she's a doctor." "Her first name could be doctor." The image of the two guys on the phone in the same room is great. 

As Annie listens, she is drawn in to Sam and Jonah's world. You can see the wheels turning. She's very intrigued. As are countless other women who call in to the radio program. I heard somewhere that men fall in love with their eyes and women fall in love with their ears. Ephron seems to agree. I think I do too. But as a man, I feel like I can understand the importance of listening with your ears and hearing with your heart. 

So two thousand women respond to Jonah/Sam's situation by calling the station. The newspaper gets wind of it and it becomes a real story. Good thing Annie has that job with the newspaper in Baltimore. Annie also has Sneezy, her fiancĂ© Walter. The wheels are still turning and now her ears are regularly hearing the radio talk show. Good thing for her ears, Sam is now calling in regularly. 

This film was made almost twenty years ago now. So, if you haven't seen it yet or don't know what happens, I don't know what to tell you. I would suggest watching this immediately. But for those of you who think you can guess, you would probably be right. It's okay too. This is one of those movies that has wonderful detail and great conversation and fun supporting characters that can't be guessed. The ride to what ultimately is destined to happen to these people is what makes it worth the while. One thing I will tell you, Sam and Annie live on opposite coasts in 1993 and there is a brand new form of communication called email. It's electronic, you use your personal computer and it's instant! 

Nora Ephron wrote the script for this movie with An Affair To Remember (1957) in mind, which was a remake of a very sad film from 1939 called Love Affair. Sleepless in Seattle is not a remake of the other two films. They are just used as a frame of reference and a plot device. At one point Annie and her friend Becky (Rosie O'Donnell) watch the 1957 film starring Cary Grant and Becky says tearily, "Men never get this movie." I didn't care for it much, but I love Sleepless In Seattle.

The music in this film is mostly really great. The opening credits roll as Jimmy Durante sings "As Time Goes By".  Ray Charles sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and Nat King Cole sings "Stardust". If it's true that you can fall in love with your ears then good music is obviously essential. 

I'll end this article now with a quote from another Jimmy Durante song in the film, "Love is the answer, someone to love is the answer. Once you've found her, build your world around her." Do you think Sam found her?

No comments: